In the zone! On fire! Unconscious! Feeling it! Locked in! Playing out of their mind!
Take all of those terms and wrap them up into one word...what would it be?
In scientific terms they define flow as: the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
A person (player, student, employee) in flow is engaged. They are performing at - and sometimes above - their peak skill level. They are focused in the present moment (not worried about missed shots or anxious about the future). And most importantly, they find enjoyment in the process.
Everyone would love to enjoy the benefits of flow, but often times we sabotage any possibility of experiencing it.
It all boils down to one simple concept. WE AVOID CHALLENGES INSTEAD OF EMBRACING THEM.
Ultimately, we choose to stay in our comfort zones and avoid change (or challenges) as much as possible.
Now focus on the paragraph below...this is important!
Flow is made possible when we are challenged. Striving for a new goal. Stretching our abilities. Growing our skills. Learning new things.
It's going to be ugly at first. Lots of failure. And lots of mistakes. But striving and eventually overcoming challenges each day is the beauty of "enjoying the process".
I recently did an orientation training with three new hires. They each shared a little bit about themselves and their backgrounds. Then I asked them to share what they are looking forward to most as they start their new jobs. It was eye opening as each new hire talked about...
Every person spoke about learning, challenges, and growing!
But what happens a year later? What happens to that hunger to keep learning, growing, and developing? Inertia sets in and we get too comfortable. We lose our enthusiasm and just go through the motions each day.
How often do you decide to embrace new challenges? Are you stuck on autopilot each day? Doing everything you can to avoid change?
Approaching every day on autopilot is fine if you value being average. Staying the same. Practicing without energy. Dabbling. And avoid challenges and change.
But if you would rather approach each day with energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment of the process...let's dive into the 3 flow pillars.
The 1st Pillar...ENERGIZED FOCUS.
When was the last time you jumped out of bed in the morning with a feeling of energized focus? Most people can't remember. Most people wake up dreading the sound of the alarm clock, wait for someone (a coach, boss or teacher) to tell them what to do, and then stop doing what they have to do when they are told to stop.
Everything is reactive. No energy. No focus. They just check in and check out...whether it's school, sports or work.
The feeling of energized focused is the result of clarity. People who lack energized focus usually lack clarity in their goals, values, and purpose. If you asked them what their purpose was, it would be silent. They don't know. No purpose, no values, and no goals = no energized focus.
So the first thing you want to practice is clarity.
And remember, clarity doesn't have to be a complex game plan of your entire life. Keep it simple. Start by getting clear on a couple standards (behaviors) that you believe are important. Then challenge yourself to demonstrate those standards the next few days. Make it something meaningful. This clarity may reinvigorate you and give you a purpose to tap into your potential.
The 2nd Pillar...FULL INVOLVEMENT.
Are you ALL IN during a practice, school or work? Do you fully immerse yourself and take responsibility for your attitude, effort and results? Many people resist giving their best effort because they are scared to go ALL IN knowing they may still fail.
But what's the alternative? To approach each day with a half-assed effort? To blame, complain, and defend your poor choices and behavior? To dabble with things rather than be ALL IN.
Each day you have the option to choose FULL INVOLVEMENT or not. If you choose full involvement you will invest your time, energy and effort into reaching your potential. BUT...you still may fail. So you will have to make the decision of what hurts more...the pain of FULL INVOLVEMENT or the pain of regret. It's your choice!
People who choose FULL INVOLVEMENT believe that giving their best effort is the only way. It's fun. It becomes a game to test your limits and see what you can accomplish.
Another very important part of FULL INVOLVEMENT is removing distractions. Distractions are flow killers. Distractions can be any of the following:
FULL INVOLVEMENT and choosing to be ALL IN is all about accepting the challenge.
The 3rd Pillar...ENJOYMENT OF THE PROCESS.
We all want to achieve big things. And we can do this by fulfilling our potential. But hopefully not at the expense of everything else.
Some people define success as simply winning and losing. All their focus is on the end result. Winning is great but it's not everything.
To enjoy the process you must adopt a growth mindset. Many athletes, students, and employees put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect. This mindset inhibits growth. A person with a growth mindset understands that mistakes and failure are part of the process of growth. They value improvement over perfection. They embrace challenges and the discomfort of growth, knowing that we must constantly stretch ourselves to improve.
People that seek perfection tend to avoid challenges. They'd prefer to play the weak opponent rather than the tough opponent. They would rather win a meaningless drill in practice against inferior competition instead of risking a loss against a tough opponent.
This inhibiting mindset (called a fixed mindset) steals all the fun out of the process. We take ourselves too seriously...because we care only about the end result. We do everything in our power to "look good", yet we forgo the opportunities to grow and improve.
Enjoyment of the process is about appreciating the small wins each day. Practicing your craft in an empty gym (or an empty office building) is a small win. It won't show up in the box score, but you can enjoy the small win because your main focus is improvement and growing.
Achieving flow requires us to embrace challenges. And to constantly stretch ourselves just beyond our current skill level. That's where the fun is.
So try out one of the 3 key elements of flow by doing the following...
Stop going through the motions...and get in the flow!